Stephen STEPs ahead with Workable (NI)

Stephen is a debt advisor at STEPNI in Dungannon and is supported by Cedar Foundation on Workable (NI)

Stephen with mentor Cormac.

What was your situation before you started Workable (NI)?

After I left university in 2012, I was struggling from job to job. I didn’t have a full understanding of the impact that my dyspraxia could have on my life, and it really did have an impact. I heard about the Workable (NI) programme when I spoke to a friend who was already on it. They really recommended it. A lady called Bernadette in Belfast was my mentor at the very start, and she was very helpful.

How would you describe your experience on Workable (NI)?

With Workable, you feel like you always have a layer of support. You also know that your employer understands the difficulties that you face. It helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses and build a career.

What would you say is the highlight of your time on WorkableNI? 

There are too many things; I couldn’t write them all down. It has given me a platform to show my talents and not be lost in a crowd. I found the one-to-one meetings very helpful, particularly my sessions with my Employment Officer, Katie. I was stuck in a rut, and we discussed how we would make the situation work. She helped me figure out what to do next, and I ended up doing a qualification in benefits advice which led me to my current position. Through the programme I also started working very closely with a life coach, which was immensely positive. I am now a fully accredited debt and benefits advisor. I also have a degree in tourism, I am a level 4 social security advisor, and I am completing a level 3 in generalist advice.

Have you noticed a progression in your confidence? 

Absolutely, I would have had no confidence in myself. Before, I would have told myself that I was the worst, at the bottom of the class. The biggest thing has been realising my potential. I now can say that there is more to Stephen Sheridan, and I can mix it with the best of them! A big part of this is due to my current employer Bernadette, who has also been a big support to me.

How do you feel about the future? 

I feel very, very positive. This last year I have qualified as a debt and benefit advisor, and I have developed a clear career path. I am now working in the job I have wanted to do since I was at school. I have always wanted to give something back to my local community. I wake up every morning and I look forward to going to work; because of this I feel like I will never work another day in my life. That’s really how I feel. STEPNI is situated where I grew up, so when I look out the window, I am looking at my local community, and it inspires me to work hard for the people of the town.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering contacting Workable (NI)?

Speak up, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. A lot of employers are understanding. If I could speak to a younger me, at 16 or 17, I would have said that I should have had more confidence in myself. My school did equip me, but I wasn’t confident enough. I would love to share my experience with my own school, St Patricks College. There might be people there with disabilities that could benefit from hearing my story.

Everyday is a school day…

Pauline McCarthy, a teacher from Portaferry with hearing loss has spoken out about her journey in the workplace.

Pauline, who is an Art and Design teacher in Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s College, Knock, discussed the building stress and anxiety of living and working with hearing loss; “My hearing loss was gradual, and I would be the type of person to just get on with things”.

After contacting the Workable NI Programme team at RNID, Pauline notes she “realised the true impact” hearing loss was having on her. Pauline’s Employment Support Officer, who just so happened to be a past-pupil of the college, worked with Pauline and principal Deborah to address some of the barriers within the workplace.

During one-to-one sessions, aspects such as hearing fatigue (whereby a person who is straining to hear or lipread experiences increased exhaustion) were discussed and Pauline was referred to the Condition Management Programme. Pauline notes: “I had never heard that term before but when my Employment Support Officer brought it up, I thought ‘that is exactly it – it’s not just me’.”

As part of the support through the programme, a bespoke training session was recorded for the pupils that Pauline teaches, outlining the importance of clear communication in the classroom. Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s College also procured assistive equipment for Pauline to use which helps to reduce some of the background noise of the classroom. Of the equipment, Pauline says “of course, there is no equipment that restores hearing, but it is helpful to have this (personal listener)”.

Like many who are deaf or have hearing loss, COVID19 and the resulting restrictions impacted Pauline greatly. Changes to familiar practices in the school, as well as distancing and the use of masks, meant communication was a greater challenge. The College agreed to provide some additional support to Pauline by way of a teaching assistant who is able to assist Pauline with some of the larger classes she takes.

Principal Deborah McLaughlin says, “The support provided through the Workable NI Programme team at RNID has been invaluable to both Pauline and the College. It is important for employers to realise that professional assistance for each individual employee, and his/her respective employer, is simply just a phone call away.”

Senior Employment Support Officer Andrea Quinn says, “it has been fantastic to see such progress with Pauline – she is confident to advocate for herself in the workplace and indeed the College have been very supportive throughout the process, engaging with employer information sessions and learning more about hearing loss”.

Despite her decades of teaching experience, Pauline admits that, at times, she questioned her future in the profession due to the effects of her hearing loss; “without the support of the Workable NI Programme and Condition Management Programme, I might have ended up just giving up”. Now, however, Pauline acknowledges the change in her confidence and her coping mechanisms. Through monthly Peer Support sessions held by the RNID Workable NI Team, Pauline has met with other teachers on the programme and even worked with them to set up a Facebook group for teachers with hearing loss in Northern Ireland.

If you feel you would benefit from support in the workplace, please contact the Workable Team:

07384836056 – text/phone

[email protected]

Life after Workable (NI)

Paul Clarke, a former participant on the Workable (NI) Programme with RNID has developed a passion for supporting others on their hearing loss journey. Paul, who works in administration with ENGIE, received support through the Workable (NI) Programme from Dec 2018 until Jan 2021 and has taken the skills and experiences he developed whilst on the programme and shared them with others who are struggling.

Paul recently signed up to an internal Disability Awareness group in ENGIE, ensuring the views of staff who are deaf or have hearing loss in the company are considered. Following a Workable (NI) Communication Tactics training session delivered by Paul alongside his Employment Support Officer, a number of ENGIE staff took action, booking hearing tests and this led to one colleague being diagnosed with hearing loss (and receiving appropriate support such as hearing aids).

Paul has continued to be involved with RNID’s Workable (NI) Peer Support sessions which are currently held online, taking on a peer mentor type role to support others who have had similar experiences to him. His experience of hearing loss, the barriers that can exist in the workplace and beyond, and the willingness to reach out to others who are struggling add such value to the monthly sessions.

Paul also uses social media to advocate for better access to services and communication, most recently spreading the word about RNID’s Digital Communication Card: Create a personalised digital communication card – RNID. These cards can be personalised to include individual communication preferences and help to normalise different methods of communication.

Paul has also handed out some leaflets for the Access to Retail campaign to highlight the difficulties deaf and hard of hearing people face in the shops.

Speaking about his experience with the Workable (NI) Programme, Paul said; “the programme has given me confidence to accept my disability and adapt to how I can work with it.  I also hope that my experience in the workplace can help others who might not know who to turn to for help”.

Paul’s Employment Support Officer, Laura Murphy, also commented; “Paul was the first participant I placed onto Workable (NI) when I joined the employment team in 2018. It was a privilege to work with and support Paul, and his colleagues. Over the past 2 years I have seen Paul grow in confidence and now, as a peer support mentor, Pauls’ ideas and encouragement are an invaluable resource for workable participants.”

RNID’s Workable (NI) programme is funded by the Department for Communities and delivered by seven disability organisations through the Supported Employment Solutions (SES) partnership ( SES delivers work-related programmes for people with disabilities and health conditions.

Each of the SES partners provide their own tailored specialist support to best meet the needs of the individuals they assist in the workplace.  Support may include:

  • Specialist one to one support to the individual
  • Provide on the job and/or outside of work training
  • Provide specific training identified for the employee to assist them in their work above what the employer would normally offer
  • Provide specific disability awareness training to employer and work colleagues.
  • Offer advice and assistance with making reasonable adjustments in the workplace
  • A support package is agreed between the employee, employer and the SES provider for a period of 1 year, however this can be extended depending on the individual needs.

If you, or someone you know, would benefit from Workable (NI) support or further information – contact the RNID team via email [email protected]

Referral onto the Workable (NI) programme can be completed by SES staff.

Mental Health support for NHS worker invaluable

I have been involved with Action Mental Health on their Workable (NI) programme, with Dorothy as my Employment Support Officer since I returned to work in 2013. Following an extended period of sickness with stress/anxiety/depression. a return to work was much needed. During the last 7+ years, I have suffered several further periods of illness, and have on occasion been off for months at a time.

Throughout this whole period, I have found Dorothy and the Workable (NI) programme to be a wonderful support.  She has checked in with me regularly – meeting me when it was possible, and now via regular phone calls.  She has always been available for me to call if I have an issue at work, need some advice or need additional support.  

She has also pointed me towards many other sources of support which I wouldn’t otherwise have accessed. These include a range of courses (such as anxiety management) run by Action Mental Health, the Condition Management Programme and counselling on several occasions by various providers.  She has accompanied me to meetings I have attended with my managers and has supported me in putting my points across and assisted in finding ways for my employer to support me.  Throughout the pandemic, she has been particularly supportive, which has been invaluable to someone working in the NHS, who has been suffering with stress.

I am convinced that I would not be able to remain in my employment in the NHS without the support of Dorothy & Workable (NI), which would be a great pity as I have spent many years studying and training for the job.

For more information on the support available please contact us and we can see what we can do for you and your employer.

A change of pace, but back to work!

In September 2017 I was diagnosed with Guillian Barre Syndrome – a neurological condition which resulted in weakness and paralysis in my extremities. I was admitted to ICU and spent a further 3 months in hospital and at Spruce House where I began an intensive programme of rehabilitation.

Up until this point in my life I worked full time and was an active 40-year-old mother with 2 teenage boys. I enjoyed good general health and liked physical exercise, running and socialising with friends.

My final obstacle, and one which was both daunting yet essential to my personal and financial life, was my return to work. I was concerned about how I would manage – and was apprehensive about coping with the physical challenge as well as maintaining the energy and concentration levels required within my role. 

Rachel – Tenancy Support Co-ordinator

I was anxious about my referral to the Workable Programme and what this would involve; but was keen to access a service that would help me to focus on a positive and successful return to work.

The Workable Programme has given me an insight into disability awareness; and more importantly to accept my own limitations. I have learned how to use techniques to manage with a new set of goals, with different physical boundaries. At times I have struggled to accept the longer term, residual effects of my condition and I have been able to discuss these concerns with Jacqui who has always managed to keep my focus positive and achievable.

I have had weekly support sessions which I have used to off load (both the highs and the lows), share my stresses and develop realistic strategies to overcome any difficulties that I have encountered along the way. Jacqui has assisted me to face new challenges in the workplace and has given me the confidence to address these both personally and with other staff and management.

I can now look forward to an ability to maintain a healthy work environment, which allows me to develop in a way while managing the effects of my condition. Workable has given me the confidence to progress in my employment – to take on new job roles and tasks and do this in a way that is not detrimental to the work-life balance which we have worked so hard to achieve!

Many thanks to Jacqui and the Workable Programme over the past 2 years – the support has been instrumental in my successful return to work.

How Workable (NI) has been helping during lockdown!

“My confidence is through the floor since Mr Corona came to town”

We hear from another one of our clients from the Workable programme, who has been receiving support since July 2019.

Here they tell us how life has changed, but how the support they receive from Action Mental Health through the Workable programme is so vital.

From my usual 5-day routine in an office, to now 1 day in the office and 4 at home, this has really messed me up! I loved the routine.  Fortunately Robert from AMH Workable is still there. He has even got Zoom and Google Meet going just to keep tabs 

My confidence is through the floor since Mr Corona came to town, although I can still get by on with my role, at the minute I have no interest in exceeding or expanding my knowledge.  I miss the office routine, the guys I work with are all on the same page, so banter is a rife!  That’s gone now, at home there’s only barking dogs!

The job is ticking over, most resources are there, but the physical aspect of just grabbing something to sort is gone, which is another blow to the confidence.

With no routine, I sometimes walk about feeling “lost”, just watching TV or sittin on reddit just to keep my mind occupied.  I still have showers, get ready every day for work on time, dinnertime and bedtime still exist, but not going out for a rake in the motor sucks!  Restrictions ruined that fun. 

But my AMH Employment Support Officer, Robert, is always there. Every time I engage with him I’ll get a response, plus he’ll proactively launch a Zoom/Google Meet meeting to catchup.  Work never question it which is nice too.

He’s always just a phone call, text or e-mail away.  It’s amazing having someone there to “take the edge off”, he knows me and what grinds my gears.  Even without face to face comms Robert is still able to help make me see sense.  Plus the work he’s done in the background (I’ve little knowledge of the magic), but he’s engaged with the Community Mental Health team, my doctor, my employer and pretty much everyone to give them a nudge.  This has helped to the point that I now have a key worker, took me 34 years on my own, took Robert 6 months, fair play!

Without sounding rude, who knows what the future holds. The world has been turned upside down by Covid, I fear the unknown and this is killing me!

But what Robert in AMH Workable is doing at the minute, keep it up, maybe face to face will be a thing soon.  Robert is steering this ship of mine in the right direction and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The SES partners include AMH and Cedar (Lead Partners), Mencap, Orchardville, NOW, RNIB and Action on Hearing Loss.

SES Aims to offer a Supported Employment approach in the delivery of programs to assist people with disabilities and health conditions to enter and stay in employment.

The Workable (NI) Programme is funded by the Department for Communities.

Mindfulness Art for stress relief

Action on Hearing Loss have developed new stress relief classes for clients!

As Picasso once said ‘Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up! Eight Workable (NI) participants braved the elements on a dark Friday evening in November to attend an ‘Art for Mindfulness and Stress Busting Workshop’ with the Peoples Painter Moyra Blayney in our Belfast Office.

The evening began with some tea, chat and pizza (a big thanks to Dominos!) and everyone sat down to a fantastic set-up with a rainbow of paints and pencils.

Moyra Blayney started with a glimpse into her childhood experience of art ‘which included her penchant for elaborate French portraits at a time when other children were still mastering stick figures’.

The first task was to complete basic drawings, step by step. Within 10 minutes everyone had relaxed into the session, smiles were aplenty!

For the next 10 minutes Moyra demonstrated to the group how to turn a simple circle in a colourful, floral, work of art! From holding the paintbrush, to thickness of strokes, Moyra had every area of teaching covered and then it was time to let the students paint freely.

The final outcome wasn’t just a beautiful array of art and colours, it was the feedback from everyone who completed the session, how positive it made them feel and importantly, how their stress has been reduce. The session ended with the opportunity to ask questions to the amazing artist Moyra Blayney; ‘Where do we buy these art supplies and when are you coming back? Until next time!

Connect to Work launched

The SES partnership have been working with the Department for Communities to design a new programme to support people with disabilities to enter employment.

Connect to Work aims to support people into employment through a range of short-term interventions with employment officers working directly with individuals to remove barriers and support job applications.

Currently this programme is only open to individuals in Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne and Newtownabbey. All referrals to this voluntary programme must be made by the Jobs and Benefits offices in these towns. There are only 20 places available on this programme currently.

The programme will last 13 weeks following the initial meeting and action planning process.

For more information please contact us or call into one of the eligible Jobs and Benefits offices.

Workable gave me invaluable support

This is a testimony from a service user who really appreciates the support SES can provide:

‘Workable has given me invaluable support.  I would never have been able to cope with the level and complexity of the caseload that is demanded of me now. The Employment Support Officer (ESO)  listened as I unburdened my stresses. Having that ‘one to one’ support from someone who didn’t judge my failings but encouraged me, sympathised with me and gave me suggestions that would help when my brain felt totally frazzled and I couldn’t think straight, was vital. One of the best suggestions I have to add was the aromatherapy sessions.  What an absolute treat they were, not only for helping me relax when I was so stressed, but also for soothing my back pain after going through spinal surgery a few months earlier.

I used to go out of those sessions feeling that I was floating on air, but feeling guilty that they relaxed me so much that the poor therapist had to put up with my snoring!

I have no doubt looking back on it all, that I only managed to remain in my employment because of the invaluable support from Workable (NI), who were there for me at a time when I felt vulnerable and I needed it most.

So thank you to my AMH ESO, to me you were more than an Employment Support Officer, you were a valuable friend and will continue to be so.

Trust Worker – Assistant Care Manager



Support for a way forward!

I had struggled with my attendance over several years due to my own and my families health.  When I was returning to work my line manager suggested referring me to the Workable NI programme.  I had never heard of it but thought it was worth trying as losing my job was a real possibility.

This programme was much more than what I initially anticipated.  What really sets this service apart is the support I received from my Employment Support Officer and her manager.  Through them I was initially able to communicate more effectively with my line manager and explain to them how my issues made me struggle with both attending work and carrying out my work when I was there.  This was something I previously hadn’t been able to do but was crucial to me moving forward.  From here we were all able to put a structured plan based on my difficulties in place to monitor my work on a regular basis and to keep me on track.  As well as providing 1-1 support through my Employment Support Officer I was also offered counselling sessions.

Since starting the programme I have had further difficult times however the support I received helped me continue working despite everything that was going on.  Meeting regularly outside of my workplace and having contact through messages and telephone calls were an invaluable source of support to me.   My Employment Support Officer genuinely made me feel that she understood everything I was going through even when my thoughts were irrational.  She really listened to me and showed me empathy to the extent that she would often seek out courses for me to attend or activities to get involved in to improve my work/life balance.

Although not all the way there, I now have no issues with my attendance, my performance has improved, my confidence is growing, I have been promoted and have stopped taking medication.  I can safely say that none of this would have been possible without my Employment Support Officer and the Workable NI programme. I would highly recommend Workable NI to anyone who is struggling to keep their job and urge line managers to be as proactive as mine.


NICS Employee